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The Post and Courier

Paid newsletter a win for S.C. daily

Offering premium content to a niche audience paid off for the The Post and Courier with revenue and audience growth.
BW_Pints and Politics

Engaging South Carolina audiences for more than
200 years

With roots stretching back to 1803, The Post and Courier is one of the oldest daily newspapers in the country. Like other traditional publishers operating in the digital age, they’ve had to rethink their marketing strategy to keep audiences engaged and business thriving.

“There’s a perception that news is dying, but we’re doing quite the opposite. We’re expanding,” says Newsletter Editor Sam Hunter. Based in Charleston, South Carolina, the newspaper has expanded coverage to the Columbia, Greenville, Spartanburg, North Augusta, and Myrtle Beach areas, also reaching as far south as Hilton Head. “We’ve had explosive growth and we’re becoming more of a statewide paper,” Hunter says. “We’re willing to experiment to find alternative streams of revenue.”

The Post and Courier participated in the Google News Initiative Subscription Lab in 2019/20, learning how to build a sustainable digital subscription model. In 2021, they partnered with the Google News Initiative (GNI) again to see if introducing paid newsletter subscriptions could create a new revenue stream. They already offered free newsletters — from breaking news and politics to business, weather, and real estate. So they decided to experiment with a dedicated niche audience — South Carolina’s diehard collegiate sports fans.

Copy of PJ Browning (1)
"Our partnership with the Google News Initiative has allowed us to create alternative revenue streams and better understand what content readers are willing to pay for."
P.J. Browning
President and Publisher, The Post and Courier

Launching paid products for a niche audience

“South Carolina is primarily a college sports state,” Hunter says, noting the historic rivalry between the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson University Tigers. “We have good audience engagement with our sports coverage. But people reading sports don’t necessarily want to subscribe to the newspaper. We wanted to see if a paid newsletter would offer them something of value, and be viable.”

They looked for ways to tap into college sports fans’ enthusiasm and convert casual readers into paid subscribers. In July 2021, they launched two premium newsletters ahead of football season: Gamecocks Now and The Tiger Take. To grow their audience, the paper participated in partnerships and events, such as an evening with the University of South Carolina Basketball Coach Dawn Staley. “Finding strategic partnerships to get us in front of other audiences was crucial,” Hunter says.

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In the months after the launch, The Post and Courier consulted with the GNI team to analyze metrics and better understand the customer journey, from engagement to acquisition. They discovered they’d initially priced the newsletters too low.

“We had a sale with a very low rate and a very high acquisition, but also a very high churn,” Hunter recalls. “By pricing the newsletters more aggressively to reflect the value of our premium content, we have seen our ARPU [average revenue per user] and our [overall] revenue grow.” Lead growth has increased by 280% (from 5,000 to over 18,000 leads) and ARPU is up by 11%.

  • 280% increase in lead growth
  • 11% increase in ARPU
  • 63% of potential audience converted to subscribers

Serving up premium content for food & drink lovers

Based on the sports newsletters’ success, The Post and Courier launched a premium foodie newsletter in February 2022. Now, Charleston’s Menu enjoys a 73% open rate. They’ve partnered with the Charleston Wine + Food Festival to increase audience exposure.

“Bringing our learnings from our sports newsletters, we were able to set a much more accurate subscription estimate for our food newsletter,” Hunter says. “We've been able to create robust revenue growth without a huge amount of lift. It was helpful to have data tracking from the start and to test different things. As a newspaper, the question was, ‘Would we have the audience for paid newsletter subscriptions?’ And it certainly appears like we do.”

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